Thousands upon thousands of Muslims were appalled by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and deeply shocked by the subsequent carnage at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Newspapers and TV channels are crammed with images of consolation and words of unequivocal condemnation. Islam means peace, they cry: there is no compulsion in religion. And yet thousands upon thousands of Muslims are satisfied in their minds that the cartoonists who insulted Mohammed got what they deserved, more or less, and those Jews got what was coming to them as well, because.. well, they’re Jews, and it’s all basically Israel’s fault. And between these two neighbouring houses of Islam – the cottage on the left, where jihad means prayer, humility, service and sacrifice, and the mansion on the right, where jihad means defence, assertion, dominance and bloodshed – is a narrow alleyway of Prophetology, shrouded in unchartered quranic conceptions of Mohammedophany and nebulous notions of hadithic holiness.
And unchartered and nebulous they largely remain, for questioning the nature and person of Mohammed is not a developed field of Islamic theological study. Nor can it be, while historical inquiry is met with threats; theological questioning elicits allegations of ‘Islamophobia’; and literary inquest or artistic taunting gets you stabbed, shot or beheaded.
This is the 21st century – the modern age of sophistication, civilisation and enlightenment. It is time for all reasoned and reasonable Muslims to refute those of the Ummah for whom every portrayal of their prophet is blasphemous, and every scholarly question about the historicity and authenticity of Mohammed is offensive. It is not all, by any means. But it is plainly thousands upon thousands. And they’re not all living in tents in the middle of an Iraqi desert: they dwell amongst us, even in the enlightened Home Counties. We need urgently to develop a ‘Prophetology’ – after the fashion of our centuries of Christology – in order to investigate the true nature and person of Mohammed as recorded in the Qur’an and Hadith(s). Then we might discover, or come nearer to understanding – as we have with Jesus – who Mohammed was; to whom he was born and how he was raised; what manner of prophet he claimed to be; what his relationship was with Allah; and what he might mean not only to the diverse ‘Islamic world’ but to non-Muslims the world over.
Did Mohammed laugh? Could he crack a joke? Is there any evidence that he had a sense of humour?
If so, wouldn’t he simply smirk at Charlie Hebdo’s crass cartoons? Wouldn’t he pity the shallowness of their spiritual comprehension and tell them to grow up, and then get on with preaching his message of Allah and the way salvation through submission? Is this the real prophet? Are the Islamist thugs and Jihadi hordes emulating another prophet; a different prophet; a false prophet?
There is an unbridgeable gulf between the God who laughs (Ps 2:4) and the one in whom there is no humour. According to Islamic scholars, Zabur is the holy book of King David – the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. Like Jewish and Christian theologians over the centuries, they acknowledge the anthropomorphisation of God, attributing to the divine nature distinctly human emotions. God thinks, feels, weeps and laughs. If God has a sense of humour, why is His prophet so menacingly po-faced?
The Charlie Hebdo slaughter and the protests over the Danish cartoons which satirised Mohammad, combined with the almost-daily stories of Muslims criticising the more frivolous aspects of Western culture, convey the distinct impression that Islam and comedy are incompatible – that farce, fun, jokes and satire are haram. It is disquieting for many Muslims that those who dare to express humour or mock their own religion are often derided by those of their co-religionists who hold to the Ayatollah Khomeini school of Islam. He once said: “An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.”
It is time for Muslims to laugh in the face of this, and to greet cartoonists, comedians and Merry-Abduls not with scorn, hatred and bloody threats, but with an alcohol-free beer, a joke and a smile. If Christology has made Jesus better known to diverse humanity and a divided Church, Prophetology could do the same for Mohammed and his disparate mosques. If we concentrate on categories of imagined thought, weighing their historical interdependence and the confines of their cultural structures, we might even dispel the myths (or confirm the realities) of whichever spiritual or socio-political school of Islam propagates Mohammed’s true message.